Vintage charm, modern wit.
Nothing’s more charming than a Vespa scooter, especially when it’s accompanied by a sweet two-stroke aroma and soundtrack. The compact powerplant was always preferred by the legendary scooter brand until emissions regulations in the early aughts forced the development of a four-stroke mill. Despite modern Vespas retaining the signature style, the vintage screamers will always be the crown jewels of scooter culture.
Now, nearly 20 years later, emissions standards have become increasingly stringent, forcing Vespa riders to choose between hefty fines or garaging their prized possessions. For instance, riding a two-stroke Vespa through London’s ultra-low emissions zone could net the rider a £12.50 ($17 USD) fine. Failure to pay the ticket will result in heavier penalties. Under those circumstances, London’s Retrospective Scooters owner Niall McCart knew that scooter riders needed an alternative.
Gallery: Project:E: Vintage Vespa Electric Motor Conversion
Partnering with friend and fellow scooter enthusiast John Chubb, McCart set out to convert a 1976 Vespa Primavera into an electric scoot. As a retired Royal Navy commander with degrees in electrical engineering and rocket science, Chubb was the perfect man for the job. However, McCart had stipulations for the project. The design had to be reversible and it couldn’t alter the Vespa’s original bodywork and chassis.
Chubb and McCart agreed, but the prototype really got underway after Chubb encountered QS Motors CTO at EICMA 2017.
“We had a really good conversation,” Chubb told the New York Times. “I’d done a whole load of first-principles calculations about the power of an electric motor and how that would work in an electric scooter. I saw all his equations, and he and I did it exactly the same way.”
Armed with that knowledge, McCart and Chubb returned to London to start on the electric Vespa. First, the pair replaced the petrol tank with a lithium-ion battery and swapped in a custom swingarm to accommodate the hub-mounted electric motor. After refining the new control unit and various components, the duo introduced the E Primavera at Vespa World Days rally in Belfast, Northern Ireland in June 2018. The crowd was initially unconvinced.
“These guys were purists,” noted McCart. “They were against it when they seen it, but as soon as they drove it to the other end of the car park and back again, they had the biggest grin on their face.”
“You’ve got to sell it as a kit,” one rider suggested to McCart.
Following the prototype’s successful unveiling, McCart and Chubb went back to the shop to simplify the design into a plug-and-play kit. Including a 64 V, 28 AH Panasonic lithium-ion battery, Retrospective Scooters kits can achieve a top speed of 50 mph and a peak range of 35 miles.
Available for multiple Vespa and Lambretta models, the Project: E conversion kits range from £3,445 ($4,766 USD) to £3,650 ($5,050 USD). Retrospective can ship the units worldwide and offer technical support for the 16-hour installation job. No, an electric Vespa may not command the attention of a two-stroke survivor, but at least you can ride it without commanding attention from the law.